Dr. Chris Foreman is in Rwanda dedicating the student training center in Butare, Rwanda, shown here under construction, in memory of his late wife, Kim.
Dr. Chris Foreman, right, with Franc Murenzi, the director of his Rwandan ministry and the driver who killed his wife after falling asleep at the wheel.
When Dr. Chris Foreman first stepped off a plane in Rwanda, he had a feeling he’d be back.
The Peninsula Baptist minister had come to the African country at the urging of his wife, Dr. Kim Hyun Deok Foreman, who’d traveled there previously with Korean missionaries. The couple, who met in Korea when Foreman was in the Peace Corps and his wife a school teacher, had been looking for the right spot to work. But while Kim helped him say hello to Rwanda, little did he know the country is where he’d eventually say good-bye to her.
Kim Foreman died in July 2010 after Franc Murenzi, the man driving the couple back to the airport fell asleep at the wheel and crashed. The aftermath forced Foreman to eventually find forgiveness for the driver — for his friend and director of his ministry — which was no easy task, even for a man of fervent faith. Foreman also promised to continue his late wife’s dream, which was establishing a student training center and hotel catering to the University of Rwanda students and eventually, hopefully, becoming self-sufficient.
This month, Foreman is back in Rwanda with his two grown sons to dedicate the center with a plaque bearing Kim’s name and participate in an international conference that is also drawing two pastors from Central Peninsula Church in Foster City. Foreman also hopes to find a little closure on that chapter of his life.
Land of extremes
Butare, Rwanda, is beautiful, Foreman said.
The elevation is 6,000 which mediates the climate and provides a home for the mountain gorilla. It is also home to people of two extremes, the urban poor and rural bush poor, who nonetheless are welcoming and generous, he remembers.
Kim used to tell people you go with suitcases of good and bring back suitcases of love, Foreman said.
It is also the land of genocide in 1994 that still scars the county. The genocide was the worst holocaust since World War II, Foreman said.
The seeds really started at the university with racial superiority which is why, Foreman said, he and his wife agreed change would come on the intellectual level rather than simply improving the infrastructure with orphanages and schools. There is all kinds of money available but, with a corrupt government, it is like pouring water into a bottomless cup, he said.
The desire to minister to the university students and eventually build the center was a very strategic decision. Get students into non-governmental organizations and nonprofits, get them in key positions, fight bad governance with the seeds of religion planted early.
Kim Foreman, a university professor, had been to Rwanda in 1998.
“I made the mistake of saying if you ever go there again I’ll go with you,” her husband, now 64, remembers with a chuckle.
In 2001, the couple traveled to Butare with Christian Life World Mission Frontiers and was hooked. This recent trip marks his 19th visit.
The trek from the affluent Peninsula to the small African nation is like going to the bottom of the ocean, Foreman said.
First you put on your deep sea gear — in this case, packing. Then go down a little which means flying to Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C., near where one son lives. Then on to the continent, to Ethiopia and then a bus ride to Butare. At the airport, he expects to be greeted by Murenzi, his former minister and the driver at the wheel when Kim died.
After the accident, Foreman never thought he could forgive him. He fired Murenzi and couldn’t move beyond the loss of his partner of 36 years. He eventually rehired Murenzi in hopes of smoothing construction complications when workers in Butare felt he was acting unfair toward his former friend. The actual feeling of forgiveness didn’t come until later, after Foreman returned to Rwanda to lay a plaque at the spot of the fatal crash in his wife’s memory. In that crowd, he saw again the people who had helped that day, the man who cut him free from his seat belt, the individuals who helped his wife into the ambulance. Foreman said that is when he returned to himself and forgave.
“The grief is there. It’s just a scar,” he said.
The planned dedication ceremony included remarks by Foreman and his brother Frank who took a bigger role with nonprofit Come & See Africa after his sister-in-law’s passing. Foreman is the executive director of the organization that launched in 2005 and sponsors short-term mission trips. The ministry also runs The Lighthouse gathering place in Butare, Rwanda and within it the Kim Foreman Bible Institute.
Also at the ceremony, his one son, the artist, is dedicating a piece and the other, a doctoral student, will speak. They will lay a plaque bearing her photo, a memorial to the woman who died at 59 and the goals she had for this facility.
The couple began construction in 2007 until money fell off in the 2010 recession. Foreman used some of the insurance money from his wife’s death to continue the work; he never wanted to profit, he said.
The result is a building up to four stories — what is possible in a country where all construction is rebar and concrete — with a roof from Kenya and cargo containers from San Lorenzo.
The building isn’t 100 percent done, but close, and the classrooms are ready for the East Africa Christian Apologetics Conference which is held at The Lighthouse every January.
The first floor will be classroom and an auditorium topped by guest rooms and a restaurant. The top floor is open, maybe perfect for weddings. Eventually, the goal is to generate enough money to cover its expenses and possibly even turn a small profit.
“I don’t want Americans sending money to Rwanda forever,” Foreman said.
When Foreman returns from this trip, he plans to take a time-out for a couple of years. He made a commitment to his new wife of one year to do so. One small step away was when Kim died; a bigger one is this dedication. But he knows he’ll eventually be back.
“It’s part of my blood and part of what I do,” he said.
For more information on the organization’s work visit www.comeandseeafrica.org.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102